War on Drugs

Georgia Senate Committee Passes No-Knock Bill That Does….What, Exactly?


The state senate's judiciary committee recently passed a bill in response to the Kathryn Johnston shooting that would…

…require officers who want to use so-called "no-knock" search warrants to go to a judge and prove that there is probable cause to believe that the officers' lives would be in danger if they knocked first, or that there is probable cause to believe that evidence inside the home would be destroyed—such as drugs being flushed down a toilet—if they knocked first.

"For the government to go into your house, they ought to be held to a higher standard," Fort said. "To go into your house without knocking, they ought to be held to a real high standard."

While I suppose it's a good sign that Georgia's lawmakers want to do something, this bill would change almost nothing. It would basically mean police officers in Georgia would have to comply with the bare minimum standards for a no-knock entry laid out by the Supreme Court in Wilson v. Arkansas. That opinion required police to knock and announce before entering a home unless they could show that the suspect presented a threat to the safety of police officers or there existed the possibility that the suspect could dispose of evidence. In other words, this bill would force Georgia to comply with the minimal constitutional protections the state should have been following for 14 years.

Moreover, it's unlikely that this would have even prevented the incident it's responding to. While the warrant itself in the Johnston case authorized a no-knock raid, the officers who conducted the raid claimed they announced first (though just about anything these particular cops said at this point is suspect).

The difference between a "no-knock" and a "knock-and-announce" raid is basically moot for the people inside the house. I've talked to police who say they wait little to no time at all between announcement and entry. If you're asleep, in a room away from the door, or hard of hearing, the difference between the two is further obscured. Keep in mind, the whole purpose of a SWAT-style raid is to catch the suspect by surprise. That's why so many of these raids are conducted at night. A full-throated announcement with sufficient wait time for the suspect to come to the door defeats the entire purpose of catching said suspect off-guard.

The real issue here is forced entry, and the use of forced entry tactics to serve warrants for nonviolent crimes. If the Georgia legislature is serious about preventing more botched raids, they'll strictly limit the number of situations in which police can break into someone's home to serve a warrant. These tactics should be limited to only the most severe situations, when a suspect presents an immediate threat to the safety of others—think hostage takings, violent fugitives, or shootings. So long as the law allows cops to kick down doors in pursuit of neighborhood dope slingers, we'll continue to have more Kathryn Johnstons. As there have been.

The sad thing is, meager as this particular bill may be, it's the second time Georgia has tried to pass it. The original bill died last year. Even after an event as appalling and high-profile as the Johnston shooting, the state can't even bring itself to pass a paltry effort at reform.

MORE:  Per the comments section, the bill does apparently increase the standard to obtain a no-knock from "reasonable suspicion" in Wilson to "probable cause" that the suspect might be dangerous or dispose of evidence.  In that sense, it is a bit of an improvement.  But police can still get a knock-and-announce warrant on the old standard, then merely force entry by merely announcing quietly, or at night when occupants aren't likely to hear them.  As the sponsor of the bill himself says in the article, the state forcing its way into people's homes is the problem, here.  Whether the police observe the formality of a cursory announcement first is beside the point.  To be effective new standard should apply any time police are forcing their way into someone's home.